My recent absence from the blogosphere coincided with a couple of lip-smacking discussions on IHM’s blog. One regarded the definition of ‘vulgar’ while the other was about why the sari has been steadily losing favour with young women in India–both topics I love to debate and pontificate on. Posting a comment at this late stage would have been kind of futile, so I decided to do a full-fledged post on each. For what they’re worth, I’ll begin with my views on the sari.
I think it cannot be said enough that the modern six yard sari is a very flattering garment. Women of all shapes and sizes look pretty in one. It can be worn to accentuate a good figure or to hide those extra pounds in its many layers. It lets you reveal about as much of your figure as you want. Wear it low on your hips to show off your washboard abs and ,well, not so low if you don’t want those stretch-marks seen. A properly draped sari makes you appear fuller in the right places if you are skinny and less fat if you are, err, kind of plump. It is this versatility which makes the sari such a popular choice at weddings and social events.
And then there is this amazing variety in terms of fabrics, weaves, designs and colours. Just about every nook and corner of the country boasts of its own distinctive type of sari. From the Chanderi of Madhya Pradesh to the Balucheri, Tangail and Dhakai of West Bengal, the Bhagalpuri silk of Bihar to the Ikat and Sambalpuri prints of Orissa, the gorgeous Coimbatore cottons to the Pochampallis of Andhra Pradesh, to say nothing of the Kanjeevarams and the Benarasis which have the pride of place in many an Indian woman’s wardrobe, sometimes as prized heirlooms.
Contrary to the popular fallacy, the sari is by no means fit only for occasions when you want to dress up. It is a great option for ‘powerdressing’ women–bureaucrats, professors, lawyers and politicians. (Sonia gandhi is often called the Imelda Marcos of handloom saris, owing to her fabulous collection of the same.) A crisp, well-starched cotton sari in neutral shades ,with little or no accessories, was until recently the attire of choice for most women in positions of authority. The salwar-kurta never quite made the mark as a formal dress although it is undoubtedly more comfortable–it comes across as too casual, even dowdy and inelegant. Female politicians of Pakistan(Benazir Bhutto and more recently Hina Rabbani Khan) have had to wear a short fitted coat over their salwar-kurtas to make them look more business-like and formal . A sari, however, is perfectly formal and elegant on its own.
The reason why the sari is increasingly seen to be chucked in favour of the salwar-kurta or western wear has basically to do with convenience. Draping the sari requires time and patience–both are in short supply in today’s hectic world. Cotton saris might look great but are a real pain to maintain and are difficult to drape for the unaccustomed wearer. Georgettes and chiffons are easier to wear and maintain but are known to be a fire hazard, what with the flowing pallu. And silk saris, of course, are too delicate to be worn very often and require expensive maintenance.
Then there is the aspect of comfort. The form-fitting blouses that are worn with the sari can be difficult to get into and even more difficult to get out of.The petticoat over which a sari is draped usually has drawstrings–I don’t understand why they don’t make petticoats with elastic waistbands–and they have to be tied real tight, or else you’ll be worried the whole time about your sari coming undone. Your sari is expected to cover your ankles, and that might make you trip if you don’t watch your step. To make matters worse, it is almost de riguer to wear high heels with your sari which places further restrictions on your movements.
The sari also suffers from an image problem. It has willy nilly come to be associated with oppressive in-laws who force their hapless daughter-in-law to wear only the sari. (I feel it is this growing perception which has done the most damage to the sari’s cause–it is what has made young women take pride in having dumped the sari as an act of rebellion against the culture of women being forced to present themselves/ behave a certain way.)
The sari is widely perceived as associated with women of a certain generation(the aunties) and/or a certain socio-economic background(poor, uneducated, oppressed). Small wonder, then, that young women today eye the sari with disdain and don’t want to be caught dead in one. Western clothes, on the other hand, are associated with just the opposite–youth, education, financial security and confidence–part of the reason why their popularity has been steadily growing even in the rural areas.
I personally simply love the sari, but draping one properly takes me half an hour, which is why I don’t wear one except on special occasions, maybe twice or thrice a year . I’ve always felt that a ready-to-slip-on sari, with all the folds and pleats sewn in, might turn out to be more popular. It will save the wearer a lot of time and effort–I for one would definitely give it a try if and when it hits the markets!